Millions of gallons of hazardous waste resulting from the nation’s nuclear weapons program lie in a remote location in southeastern Washington state called Hanford. Beneath this desert landscape about two million curies of radioactivity and hundreds of thousands of tons of chemicals are captured within the stratified vadose zone below which gives rise to complex subsurface flow paths.
These paths create uncertainties about where the contaminants go and what happens to them. With the mighty Columbia River bordering much of the site, where these nuclear wastes migrate, their composition and how fast they are traveling are of vital importance to both people and the environment.
The November issue of Vadose Zone Journal features a series of papers addressing the mysteries within the vadose zone beneath Hanford. The series outlines scientific work funded by the Department of Energy and carried out by scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and contributing associates with other national laboratories, universities and contractors.
The detailed series outlines how researchers have investigated Hanford’s vadose zone to better understand the migration of these contaminants, ultimately reducing or stemming their flow toward the Columbia River, thereby protecting the river and the people living downstream. By studying the geologic, biologic, geochemical and hydrologic conditions at the Hanford site, the researchers seek to understand and manipulate the factors that control contaminants’ fate and transport.
To date, studies show that fine-grained sediment layers along with rain, snowfall and other climatic conditions affect contaminant transport. For three decades, scientists have studied what happens when water enters and exits the soil, particularly how it affects the movement of the contaminants under various conditions.
“Understanding how hydrology and chemistry are interacting below the land surface in the vadose zone and the factors that control those interactions are keys to ultimately dealing with the legacy from nuclear waste production at the Hanford site,” said Glendon Gee, Laboratory Fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Gee is lead author on the overview paper of the series.
Chemical studies indicate that a number of contaminants, such as cesium, react strongly with Hanford sediments and move only under extreme conditions. Researchers found that another contaminant, uranium, reacts with the sediments in complex ways and its migration varies under different conditions. Other contaminants, such as tritium and nitrate, are relatively mobile. These contaminants have been transported deep into the vadose zone and reached the groundwater. Carbon tetrachloride and other organic compounds have moved in complex ways, as both vapor and liquid, and reached the groundwater.
Additional studies of the fate and transport of contaminants in the vadose zone are ongoing at the Hanford Site. These studies will characterize the extent of contaminant plumes, determine how fast or slow they are migrating and evaluate remediation solutions.
Sara Uttech | EurekAlert!
Climate change weakens Walker circulation
20.10.2017 | MARUM - Zentrum für Marine Umweltwissenschaften an der Universität Bremen
Shallow soils promote savannas in South America
20.10.2017 | Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut und Naturmuseen
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research